8 Ways to Boost Your Brain as You Age
Like the rest of your body, your brain changes each year.
Similarly, there are many ways to improve the condition of your brain – just like there are for your body. Try these eight proven brain boosters to help keep your mind sharp and make the most of all your matter:
Break a Sweat
Exercise pumps blood to the brain and encourages the growth of new brain cells—and you don’t have to spend hours at the gym to get the positive effects. Research shows that regular aerobic exercise, like walking or cycling, for 30 minutes a day reduces brain cell loss. (Regular physical activity can also significantly reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes and more.)
Studies show that mentally stimulating activities may help reverse cognitive decline. Just as lifting dumbbells strengthens your muscles, keeping your mind engaged seems to increase the brain’s vitality and may build its reserves of brain cells and connections. Do stimulating activities that you enjoy: Read, write, put together a jigsaw puzzle, work on crosswords…it all counts.
Listen to Music
A study in the journal Neuron showed that listening to music may sharpen the brain’s ability to anticipate events and stay focused. Researchers took an MRI of people’s brains while they were listening to symphony music, and then when they weren’t. When music played, the areas of the brain involved with paying attention, making predictions and accessing memories were engaged; the same couldn’t be said when it was quiet.
Nurture Your Relationships
Invest in your bonds with friends and loved ones. Experts suspect that social interaction requires you to engage the areas of the brain involved in memory and attention, the same mental processes that are used in many cognitive tasks. Furthermore, one study revealed that activities that combine social interaction with physical and mental activity may help prevent dementia. Sign up for a dance class, which allows you to spend time with pals, get moving and challenge your brain as it works to keep up with all those tricky steps.
Certain foods are rich in vitamins and other nutrients that can help thwart threats to your brain health. For example, regularly eating vibrantly-hued fruits and vegetables, which have high levels of disease-fighting antioxidants, will help counteract disease-causing free radicals throughout the body, including the brain. Cook meals with ingredients containing mono- and polyunsaturated fats, which can improve levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol and—according to research—may help protect brain cells.
Drink in Moderation
While we do not recommend taking up drinking alcoholic beverages, you might be surprised to learn that drinking alcohol sparingly may be beneficial to your brain. At least five studies have linked low-dose alcohol consumption—a drink a day for women, two for men—with a reduced risk of dementia in older adults. Be careful not to go outside those limits: Heavy alcohol use has been linked to an increased risk of dementia and cognitive decline, among other health concerns.
Smoking can affect your body’s ability to deliver to the brain oxygen and nutrients that help keep it healthy, and some studies have indicated that it can even speed up the brain’s natural aging process. Smoking can also lead to the formulation of plaques that can contribute to dementia.
Protect Your Head
Experts think that there may be a connection between serious head injury and Alzheimer’s disease, especially when trauma occurs repeatedly or involves loss of consciousness. Protect your brain by wearing a seatbelt, using a helmet when participating in sports and fall-proofing your home.